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Why Would a Museum Display Skulls of Enslaved People in the First Place?

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penn museum pod skull
A 19th-century illustration of a human skull (public domain)

Recently, Hyperallergic reported that the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania will be removing a cranial collection from display in a basement classroom. The group of crania, which was donated by a 19th-century Philadelphia-born and UPenn-educated physician named Samuel George Morton, includes many skulls of enslaved Black peopleThe collection is a product of racist, pseudoscientific “race science” that Morton and his peers perpetuated. Members of the UPenn community actively denounced its display at the institution for many years prior to the museum’s recent decision.

Hyperallergic’s news editor Jasmine Weber and reporter Hakim Bishara join me to discuss this story and what Police Free Penn, a group consisting of UPenn students and local activists, is demanding the museum abolish the collection.

The music this episode is an instrumental version of “Begin Again” by Kill the Alarm.

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